It goes without saying the 117th running of the Boston Marathon will not soon be forgotten. As I finally sit down to compose my own race report from the day, I do so with the luxury of knowing the clear and present danger visited upon us by Messrs. Tsarnaev has been extinguished, and that the lone survivor of the two will now face justice. While I continue to feel terrible sadness from knowing nothing will bring back the three innocent individuals who died needlessly on Patriots Day, and that those injured in some cases face a tremendously difficult physical rehabilitation, I am filled with pride and gratitude for all of the authorities who were involved in this case. From the elected political leaders to the uniformed officers and EMTs on the ground, not to mention volunteers who stepped forward, the relentless focus, unity of purpose and quiet professionalism shown by all involved in the response was magnificent. They showed unequivocally that, nearly 12 years after 9/11, that it is indeed possible to take the high road to justice. And that truly makes me proud to call this country my home. Moreover, I can’t wait to toe the line again in Hopkinton next year. I will be back.
And now for the race report…
That is, of course, a baseball phrase significant of when one’s favorite team finally leaves the comfy confines of Florida or Arizona to head north and start the regular season. But it also is a good way to characterize that time in a marathon training program where the “hard” or peak phase finally closes, followed by the taper and then the arrival onsite. For this cycle I followed the Hansons Marathon Method (earlier training updates here, here, here and here), which feels easy at the beginning, but over time builds in intensity. By the time peak phase hits, so does the sensation of having been “sucked in” to a really rigorous program. The long runs in the program are shorter than most marathon training plans recommend, but the overall volume and amount of marathon pace running are very high, much higher than I had ever done in the past. Moreover, the taper is a very short one, only 10 days. When I did my final “tempo” run under the program – 12 miles with the middle 10 at goal marathon pace – I was right on target despite running in near freezing rain conditions. Then came the taper period. Here I try to maximize easy running and get good rest, but the latter of those evaded me for a number of reasons, mainly due to outside stresses such as events at work and so on. So when I got to Boston, I can’t say I was a rested as I wanted to be, but when I had a good night’s sleep in Boston on Saturday, followed by a nice casual 3-mile trot on Sunday, I felt as ready as I was going to be. On a side note, it was pretty cool getting to meet the great Meb Keflezighi in person at the expo. He’s not only a great champion but an incredibly gracious gentleman. Later that night I got to meet Bill Rogers, who wished me luck in the race.
Lynn and I get to meet Meb Keflezighi at the Boston Marathon Expo.
Race Day Morning
I slept fitfully Sunday night, then woke up feeling a bit dehydrated. Maybe the room’s ventilation system dried me out, I don’t know, but I quickly set about rehydrating as I consumed my oatmeal and energy bar. After breakfast I dressed quickly and was on my way to Boston Common by 6:15am. I arrived there to find only short lines for the buses; the big crowds would soon follow. I boarded a bus, chatted a little bit with a guy who stayed in the same hotel as me and browsed Facebook on my phone. I got to the athletes village and after all the water I drank upon getting up, desperately needed to make a pit stop, which of course meant waiting in a line. I guess my efforts to rehydrate went well, because I would visit the port-o-john twice more before departing the village. By the time I was due to begin making my way to the start I felt relaxed and ready to go. I was in the first corral of Wave 2 this time and that meant being held back for a while on Grove Street while the first wave took off. Then we moved forward and took our places.
And We’re Off!
As we lined up, I couldn’t help feeling a little amused by being at “the” Boston Marathon and being able to line up so close to the actual start. I mean, I could even see the starter, the emcee, the motorcycle cops. It felt like a little taste of eliteness, just a tiny bit. As the clock counted down I did my usual relaxation exercises and reminded myself, “easy out of the gate.” I knew some people would fly out of that start and I didn’t want to be one of them. At the same time, I was also cognizant of the aggressive goal I had in mind of 3:10. At some point I would need to turn it up a notch and get after it. True to my plan as we headed across the line I stayed relaxed and ran a 7:22 first mile while getting passed by many who rocketed down the hills. I knew I’d see some of those folks again soon.
And so it went for me over the next several miles. I stayed for the most part a little bit off my goal pace, though I did drop a 7:13 in Mile 4. For the most part I tried to just stay in a positive frame of mind, smiling, waving to some friendly spectators and just enjoying the scenery and pageantry of this great race. I decided the real race for me would begin after 13.1 miles. As I came through scream tunnel at Wellesley, no kiss stops for me, I had work to do, but I began to gather my strength for that halfway point while the energetic young coeds pushed me to a 7:16 mile. I had this race right where I wanted it, I thought.
The Race Begins
Before long we passed through the half marathon point. I passed through it in 1:36:47, on pace for a 3:13. At this point while I wanted to start racing hard, I also had to be honest with myself about how much I had left. Could I pick it up more? Or was I already overextended? I still felt good but I also knew the hardest part of the course was yet to come and the early downhills had already worked my quads hard. I pressed on and stepped it up enough to reel in a number of runners who had been ahead of me the entire race. Most of them went out too fast and wouldn’t see me again. As the first of the Newtown Hills came into view I still felt strong even while the first walkers started showing. I was passing people right and left, but when the 25k split (1:54:42) came up, my pace hadn’t picked up at all, despite how hard I was now working. Determined, I dug in harder and tried to find a little more, but at 30k (2:18:23) the result was the same. With Heartbreak Hill still to come it was clear that today would not be my day for a 3:10. But a PR and breaking the dreaded 3:20 plateau that has tormented me for 5 years was a very real possibility.
As we hit Heartbreak Hill I continued to leave other runners in my wake, even though my pace had noticeably slowed. I wasn’t too concerned about that, as long as I could rev it back up once we cleared Heartbreak. As we crested by Boston College, I settled in to a quicker pace, though not as quick as earlier in the race. I was much less playful with the crowds now, too, as I started feeling concern that my dream race could be slipping away. “Just hold on,” I kept telling myself, but my quads were shot. Moreover, my right hamstring was starting to tighten. And I had developed a big blister on my right big toe, which I had to hope wouldn’t pop (it didn’t). All told this day had suddenly turned hard. Really hard. I kept the corner of my eye on the tracks by Commonwealth to see if I could spot my wife Lynn in the crowd. Unfortunately she never did get to see me pass by, and I know I could have used the extra motivation. But as I hit 23 miles, and fuel tank running near empty I knew I had to go this alone. “Just hold on.” I was fading fast. With 2k to go (3:09:23) the situation was getting desperate. I didn’t want to stop and walk. I hate stopping and walking! But my hamstring was getting worse and I had no choice. When I did finally slow down to walk a bit, my legs nearly collapsed because my quads were so weak. Slowly but surely, the 3:20 beast was grabbing me back into its clutches. It had beaten me, again. I would take two more short walk breaks on Commonwealth, the last of them at Cleveland Circle. What got me restarted? A spectator, true to Boston form, who said “you in the green socks, quit walking and get moving!”
As I made the right on Hereford, I swore to myself there would be no more walking, no matter how slowly I had to jog it in. Prior to the race I had visualized exploding off that final left turn onto Boylston. Unfortunately, that would just have to wait for another day. Step by agonizingly slow step the arch got a little closer. Finally, I crossed the line in 3:24:13 and only then did I realize what a favor that guy at Cleveland Circle had done me. Despite an excruciating crash in the final 5k of the race, I still held on for not only a Boston re-qualification at my current age group, but big BQ at my age group next year. Once again when I stopped running my legs wobbled underneath me. I had given everything I had today, that much was clear. At this point my entire lower body hurt. I worried a bit that one of the volunteers would see me staggering, think I was in trouble and throw me into a wheelchair, so I worked hard to keep my bearings. Truthfully my cardiovascular system recovered quickly, it was my lower body that felt like jello. Eventually my stability started to return and by the time I made it to my baggage bus I had caught up my friend John from Chicago, who posted a 3:04 on the day. His wife Natalie, came in shortly after me with a nice 3:35 result. We chatted a bit, then dispersed, they back to their hotel and me to reunite with Lynn, but we agreed to meet up later. Those plans never came to pass, given what occurred a short while later, so I’m grateful for the time I did get to spend with them. Once Lynn and I got back together we headed for Starbucks so I could begin to get warm with a venti carmel macchiato. Not long after that the chaos ensued, with emergency vehicles going by, and large, dazed crowds in Boston Common. It was indeed a dissonant ending to what had been a great day for us all. But in the face of such a cowardly terrorist act, and armed with a new BQ, by that evening I had firmly resolved that “I will be back next year.”
I am now in my usual post-marathon recovery phase, two weeks of no running at all. Moreover, a severe spring allergy attack has gone the extra lengths to enforce that ban. But it has given me time to reflect on this most unusual of marathon experiences and the roller coaster of emotions it brought on. The competitor in me is still hungry to run a better marathon – and to be sure I’ll probably pore over the training data from this and other marathons to figure out how to get there – yet I am reminded of how lucky I was to get to finish the race. The fact I did is a random matter of timing, nothing more. And throughout the rest of this year, be it a small DC Roadrunners Club race, Marine Corps Marathon this fall, or Boston next year, I will run with the bombing’s victims in my heart. Because no one ever really runs alone.
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